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Trudy Rubin: A shameful saga of US callousness toward Iraqis
May 30, 2018
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A year ago I wrote a column titled “From Iraq, a good-news immigration story.”

It concerned the reversal of a cruel injustice the US bureaucracy had perpetrated on the Al-Baidhani family, whose two sons paid a high price for working as interpreters for the US army in Iraq.

I wrote too soon.

In the current anti-immigration era, when blocking refugees has become a top priority, few exceptions are made — even for those who risked their lives to help Americans. So my good news story has turned into a shameful saga of US callousness towards Iraqis who helped our soldiers.

The story isn’t finished, but its ending may depend on you.

First, the background: After the US troops left Iraq, Khalid Al-Baidhani was shot in the face and his brother Wisam received death threats — all because they had worked with the US army. The brothers’ uncle, also an interpreter for US forces, was shot dead. It took years of security checks and Herculean efforts by Peter Farley, the former army sergeant with whom Wisam went out on daily patrols, to get the brothers to Haverhill, Massachusetts under a special visa programme for Iraqis and Afghans who worked for the US military. Wisam adjusted rapidly to American life, speaking to veterans’ groups and running the Boston Marathon on behalf of a children’s charity sponsored by the credit union he works for.

Once here, the brothers applied to bring their parents and younger siblings – who were also living under death threats. After five years of extensive vetting, the Al-Baidhani family was set to fly from Baghdad to Massachusetts on Aug. 31, 2016, having sold all their possessions.

On Aug. 30, as the family prepared to leave for the airport, the US embassy called and told them to stand down because there was another security check. On the day before Thanksgiving, Wisam got notice that their visas were refused. No reason given, no way to learn why.

Farley, now an elementary school teacher, waged a phenomenal campaign to reverse the refusal (even though such reversals are rare). He gathered 100 letters of support from US citizens, raised support from several congressmen and senators, and mobilised a Change.org petition that garnered 22,000 signatures.

Miraculously, the rejection was withdrawn at the beginning of June 2017. That’s when I wrote my upbeat column. Then came the latest, bitter chapter of this story.

One year on, Wisam’s family still has not received their visas. “My family sold everything, house, car, belongings, because they were told they didn’t need to stay,” Wisam told me. Only 113 Iraqi refugees have been admitted as of May 21 in fiscal 2018 as compared to 6,886 last year, according to State Department figures. This includes relatives of those who worked with US troopers.

“Extra vetting is just a code word for not letting Iraqis in,” Farley told me, his frustration palpable. “In this case, they looked over 600 pieces of evidence. They’ve dug and dug and done all the security checks you can imagine for people who sacrificed for this country.

“These are the people we rely on in our war efforts. What message are we sending?”

Unfortunately, the message is pretty graphic: The United States betrays those who fight by our side.

Tribune News Service

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